DARKBEAST is the story of Keara, an eleven-year-old girl facing the biggest decision of her life. In Keara’s world, every child has a darkbeast—a creature that takes dark deeds and emotions like anger, pride, and rebellion. Keara’s darkbeast is Caw, a raven. Caw is her constant companion, and they are magically bound to each other until Keara’s twelfth birthday. On that day, Keara is required by law to kill her darkbeast. In fact, refusing to do so is an offense to the gods, heresy to be punished by the feared Inquisitors.Although Keara struggles to follow the rules, she cannot imagine life without Caw. And she finds herself drawn to the Travelers, actors who tour the country performing revels. Keara is fascinated by the Travelers’ mysterious plays, with their hints of a grand life beyond her tiny village. As her birthday approaches, Keara readies herself to leave childhood—and Caw—behind forever. But when the time comes for the sacrifice, will she be able to kill the creature that is so close to her? And if she cannot, where will she turn, how can she hide from the Inquisitors?
Many, many thanks to Mary, for allowing me to visit her blog today, to tell you all about My Favorite Bit from my middle grade fantasy novel, Darkbeast! Due to the generosity of my publisher, Simon & Schuster, I will give away a copy of Darkbeast to one commenter, chosen at random from all the comments to this post.
In Darkbeast, twelve-year-old Keara runs away from home rather than sacrifice Caw, the raven darkbeast that she has been magically bound to all her life. Pursued by Inquisitors who would punish her for heresy, Keara joins a performing troupe of Travelers.
I loved everything about creating this book – Keara’s bravery, the herblore that she learns at her mother’s knee, the twelve gods who rule over every aspect of daily life in Keara’s world. But most of all, I loved creating Caw. And my very favorite bit about creating Caw is his constant, indefatigable hunger.
When I first decided to give Keara a raven darkbeast, I did a lot of research about corvids. I learned about what they ate, where they nested, how they flew, when they slept – on and on and on.
Of course, Caw isn’t an ordinary raven, living in our ordinary world, so those details weren’t enough to make him spring off the page. Caw speaks directly to Keara, mind-to-mind. He understands her deepest fears. He absorbs her worst impulses. Like a parent, best friend, and religious instructor all rolled into one, he pushes her to be the best twelve-year-old girl she can be.
But Caw isn’t perfect himself. In fact, Caw is rather gluttonous. He’s never met a treat he didn’t like, and he absolutely refuses to believe that “less is more” wherever food is concerned.
Caw’s attitude toward eating was originally inspired by one of my cats, Christina, a five-pound dilute tortoiseshell who could easily eat half a rotisserie chicken. (Yes, I know that for sure. I learned it when she recruited our other cat to tangle himself in computer cables so that Christina could clean our dinner plates when we ran to the rescue.)
As I got to know Caw better, he took on some aspects of hobbits (second breakfast, anyone?) And he owes more than a little to a friend’s blind Labrador retriever, who never had any problem finding retreats, even in a crowded room, when surrounded by very vocal children.
At times, Keara’s story is dark. She is challenged by many things in her world – religious hierarchy, civil government, social expectations about just what a girl is supposed to say and think and do. But even when Keara is caught in the most dire of circumstances, she has her darkbeast at hand, ready with a quip and advice – all in exchange for a treat.
Morgan Keyes grew up in California, Texas, Georgia, and Minnesota, accompanied by parents, a brother, a dog, and a cat. Also, there were books. Lots and lots of books. Morgan now lives near Washington, D.C. In between trips to the Natural History Museum and the National Gallery of Art, she reads, travels, reads, writes, reads, cooks, reads, wrestles with cats, and reads. Because there are still books. Lots and lots of books.